Schools move forward in student achievement, technology, and investment in human capital
Reflecting on the 2016-17 accomplishments of the Grundy County School District is necessary to determine how far our school system has come in reaching the goals set forth in July of 2016, in Director of Schools Jessie Kinsey’s strategic plan for the 2016-2017 school year. Kinsey explained that this strategic plan was based on conclusions of various interactions during the spring of the 2015-2016 year including open dialogue with students, interactions with parents, conversations with teachers, collaborations with principals, goal setting with supervisors, exchanges with board members, and other members of the Grundy County community.
Although the test scores from the 2016-2017 TN Ready and End of Course assessments have not been released, there are many areas in which the school system has shown progress and results due to the hard work and commitment of all necessary stakeholders.
There were three overarching strategies encompassed in Kinsey’s strategic plan including:
• “Reach Every Child”
• “Invest in Our Educators”
• “Provide Innovative Enhancements to Learning and Enrichment for All Students”
With the “Reach Every Child” strategy, the school system made several advances toward improving the school district. One of the top priorities was to reduce the number of students in the district who were considered chronically absent (missing more than 10 percent or 18 days of school each year). This priority lead to the “All Day, Every Day” attendance improvement campaign that reshaped the value of attendance to our students, parent, teachers, administrators, and district supervisors. Each month, across the district, schools competed to see who had the highest percentage of students in attendance. Within the schools, classes competed for best class attendance and were creatively rewarded with student driven prizes like popcorn parties, extra computer or recess time, and ice cream socials. The idea of attendance is now different in the minds of those involved in the Grundy County School District, and attending school daily is now seen as an opportunity for children to learn.
Another big task included in the “Reach Every Child” strategy was the exploration of introducing the students of Grundy County with a device that they could use to assist with differentiating instruction. This one-to-one initiative became known as GCI (Growing, Creating, & Innovating) and a student-developed logo was chosen to represent this digital initiative by the GCI advisory team. After months of planning and meetings, the GCI advisory team, which includes students, teachers, parents, one board member, principals, and district supervisors, is ready to deploy Chromebooks to every eighth grade student in Grundy County in late July 2017.
The second key strategy of Kinsey’s strategic plan is “Invest in Our Educators.”
“The truth of the matter is, the education that we offer the students of Grundy County is only as good as the people who deliver their education,” stated Kinsey.
This strategy encompassed many aspects to strengthening the school system’s personnel, starting at the top. Grundy County worked to attract and retain quality employees, including hosting a new teacher orientation in July 2016, to welcome new teachers to the system and restarting a mentoring program for new teachers that had not been in place in the past few years. System-wide, Grundy County Schools’ employees embarked on a journey of professional development that was relevant to the needs of the students including close reading, Google training, training on new state standards, and utilizing interactive read aloud strategies. An additional goal for this strategy was to develop staff salary levels that are more consistent and fair, and increase faculty salary levels that more comparable to surrounding districts. Just last week, the school board approved bonuses for certified faculty/administrators and non-certified staff, as well as adopted a differentiated pay plan for professional educators.
“Provide Innovative Enhancements to Learning and Enrichment for All Students” was the final strategy of Kinsey’s strategic plan for 2016-2017. The first priority within this strategy was to strengthen and expand Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) through the Grundy County School District. Through the use of grant writing, children within the district were given several opportunities for STEM. Some of these STEM possibilities included GCHS securing a grant that purchased 3-D printers, allowing students to learn to program these printers to make 3-D objects; GCHS students from the robotics enrichment class placed eighth in a robotics competition in Chattanooga after only two weeks of preparation time; the Launch for TN grant in the amount of $25,000 served 130 students in a 90-day coding program, which included exposing all fifth grade girls, 25 juniors, and 25 seniors to the art of computer programming in the fall of 2016; and most recently, Pelham, North, and Coalmont elementary school students had the opportunity to participate in a nine-day day STEM camp this summer. One other positive development from this STEM initiative is that GCHS will offer a STEM focus as a program of study for students to choose for the 2017-2018 school year.
In addition to the accomplishments previously listed for the Grundy County School System, these indicators of a successful school year have also occurred within the school district:
• GCHS graduation rate increased to 96 percent for 2015-16. The comparable state average for last year was 88.5 percent.
• In July 2016, Grundy County Schools assisted with organizing the “Back to School Bash” in which 561 people attended, 355 of which were children.
• GCHS cafeteria staff received the “most improved percentage of increased participation in breakfast” in the entire state for 2015-16.
• Grundy County Schools was awarded the telehealth grant and the telemedicine grant for all seven schools. School nurses will perform all necessary pre-physician examination, including weight, vital signs, and lab work for the telehealth grant. The telemedicine grant will include mental health services and psychiatric care as necessary through the use of case coordinators from Volunteer Behavioral Health. At the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, students and parents will be able to visit the doctor at the school nurse’s office.
• GCHS was selected as an Advise TN High School. The TN Department of Education provided GCHS with a college and career advisor to help promote college-going and college persistence rates.
• In January 2017, GCHS Guidance Department received a $7,500 TnACHE grant, which is a college awareness and access grant for rural school districts in Appalachia.
• In March 2017, Grundy County Schools participated in “Make a Difference Day” at all elementary schools in order to improve their schools through various projects including drawing and painting murals, organizing libraries, painting “Power” words, landscaping/clean up around school, and working on playgrounds. This work was sponsored and organized by the South Cumberland Community Fund.
• In April 2017, Grundy County Schools received the Read to Be Ready Grant for $42,000. Currently, 45 rising first, second, and third graders across Grundy County are participating in this summer enrichment reading program.
• One-hundred percent of GCHS 12th grade students passed the state-mandated civics assessment and completed the TN Promise Application and FAFSA.
• Forty GCHS students successfully completed at least one college class in the fall of 2016 and 37 students in the spring of 2017 through the dual enrollment program.
• Grundy County Schools has been awarded the Voluntary Pre-K Grant for the 2017-2018 school year in the amount of $321,000. These grant dollars will fund three schools in our district with the Pre-K program.
The significance of any strategic plan is that it brings all stakeholders to the table with a shared mission, vision, and goals for the school year. Although ambitious, a quality strategic plan allows the Grundy County School District to make deliberate choices to sustain and replicate successes within the schools, while defining areas that need to be revised or further developed. Kinsey’s 2017-2018 strategic plan is on the July 2017 board meeting agenda awaiting the school board’s adoption of her presented plan for the upcoming school year.